Solo albums aren’t always a sign that cracks are beginning to show in the ranks of an established band, more often they are just a way of finding an outlet for music which doesn’t fit into the existing musical journey. The fact that Jeff Crandall invited fellow members of Swallows to help create his solo album whilst they were simultaneously recording the band’s third album across town shows just how harmonious a process it can often be. And if Swallows is a mercurial blend of rootsy Americana, slightly psyched out rock, blasted blues and frenetic folk, the odd thing about this solo album is that whilst Crandall’s building blocks are similar in nature, what he builds with them as J. Briozo is a whole different affair.
It covers a lot of ground, wandering as it does between the breezy pop-blues of The Big Parade, the gentle cosmic beauty of Beautiful Mess, the retro, west coast psychedelia of Sun Sun True, the wide-screen cinematics of Blue and some lovely minimalism with Santa Cruz. It is eclectic for sure, same as the band who spawned this majestic record but where as Swallows tend to be writ larger across their chosen musical landscapes, in this mode the result is more often than not a more considered, understated and subtle affair. They know how to rock out for sure, just check out Spinning Out for some glorious college rock grooves but its finest moments are found in the intricacy and parred down moments, the smaller details and the gentler musical brush strokes of the moody yet reflective opener Blind or the lilting acoustica of Rain Song.
Many of these songs could have been fitted into the Swallows set, but I’m glad that Crandall had the foresight to consider them a separate entity. By doing so under a new moniker, he retained the ability to call all the shots, even whilst working with his regular sonic work mates, and in doing so the songs come with no pre-existing baggage or feel the need to conform to the Swallows template. The result is not only the realisation of an alternative musical vision but an album which stands firmly on its own two feet. It is the strange and thoughtful cousin of Swallows but is destined to have a really interesting journey in its own right.